In his 2018 annual mission statement, Mark Zuckerberg committed to not only overhauling Facebook in terms of making it a safer and fairer forum, but also to place greater emphasis on posts from users’ friends and family on its News Feed. It’s an announcement that has left brands dependent on Facebook a little unsettled about the way this will affect their social media campaigns.

The big take-out: Facebook’s continued commitment to prioritising posts from friends and family in its News Feed is not all bad news for brands, if they are prepared to invest in creating valuable content that drives engagement.

The move is a continuation of Facebook’s 2016 announcement, when it changed the format of its News Feed to place greater weight on posts that enhance social interaction. Zuckerberg has always been sticky about advertising on Facebook, initially insisting that the News Feed does not include brands at all, despite the potential for generating revenue. When he finally allowed brands to advertise, his rules were stringent, resulting in ad ranking that is precise and targeted, while irrelevant content is penalised.

In an announcement to its partner community recently, Facebook reported a greater commitment to posts on News Feed that emphasise friend interactions and inspire conversation and interaction, rather than posts that audiences consume passively. 

In the short term, says Gil Sperling, CTO at Popimedia, there will be no changes to ad rankings, but organic content that does not make the grade will be summarily dismissed by Facebook’s algorithms, which means that irrelevant content will never see the light of day. “The risk for brands is that organic reach, referral traffic and video watch time will almost certainly decline,” Sperling says. This is particularly threatening for brands that focus almost entirely on social media marketing, pushing irrelevant content and using sensationalist tactics, he adds.

Longer term, Facebook’s ongoing commitment to becoming a more relevant place for its users is not bad news for brands. Think of it this way – if branded content actually makes it onto Facebook’s News Feed, it’s likely that there will be a high level of active engagement. Sperling adds that if audiences spend less time on the platform, the time they do spend on Facebook will be quality time, giving marketers the opportunity to become more than just wallpaper on a News Feed.

For brands to make it into the conversation, they will need to put a great deal more effort into their posts, ensuring they are precise, relevant and meaningful. It’s likely to be a time-consuming process, concedes Sperling, but well worth it. “When interactions are meaningful, brands have the opportunity to engage – which is the pot at the end of the rainbow for marketers,” he says.